Natural disaster response risks dulling Army's fighting edge

Forces stretched too thin?

Canada's top soldier is warning that as the Army gets called out to a growing number of floods, wildfires and other natural disasters, there is a risk that work will hurt the force's ability to defend the country.

The Canadian Armed Forces has a long history of helping provinces and municipalities with natural disasters, with soldiers filling sandbags, evacuating citizens and fighting fires, among other things. Recent trends suggest those requests are growing in both frequency and scope.

An analysis by The Canadian Press last May showed the military had been asked to help with 10 weather-related disasters over the previous two years. That's compared to 20 such calls between 2007 and 2016. The number of soldiers involved has also increased as the size of the disasters has grown.

While those efforts have been warmly welcomed by residents and local governments, Canadian Army commander Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre says: "If this becomes of a larger scale, more frequent basis, it will start to affect our readiness."

Readiness is the term militaries use to describe their ability to do their jobs at a given moment. For the Army, that means being ready to fight.

That might not seem important during a time of relative peace, but Eyre says training is essential to ensure the Army can respond whenever and wherever a threat to the country emerges.

"It's like a hockey team that would never train, never play on the ice together, and then all of a sudden being thrown into an NHL game and be expected to win," he said in an interview. "You've got to keep doing that (training)."

Training has not been affected to a significant degree yet, but Eyre says commanders are "watching closely." The concern is that disasters often occur in the spring and fall, which are also the Army's primary training periods.

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